Media Illness

by C_aan0720 on April 2, 2015 - 4:19pm

One of the main advantages of the media is that information is easily accessible. A few clicks allow us to be exposed to different stories from all around the world. This is why we mostly get all our knowledge from the media now. All of this information can be used to help us construct our own opinion on a multitude of issues. Therefore, the media has the important role to inform us correctly and to present all of the nuances when giving us information on any subject. However, often times the media tends to focus on the “wow factor” more than anything else. It does not mean that the information provided is false, but that it lacks many details. News programs can be found on many channels at almost any time of the day. Theses programs inform the population on everything from local news to international news. However, in every newscast, at least one story is about a violent crime such as a shooting, a murder or an armed attack. With that, comes the description of the perpetrator. Words such as schizophrenic, crazy, mentally ill, personality disorder, unstable, psycho, violent and hopeless are commonly used. Indeed, the media often associates violent crimes to mental illnesses.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime”. Many people struggle with mental illness, but do not know what to do about it. They feel ashamed and do not discuss about it because of what most people think about it since the media is continuously perpetuating its stereotypes. The use of inappropriate words such as psychopath, which refers to violent social behavior, contributes to the misconception of mental illness. What are presented in news reports are the cases that attract attention. Some people really are so deeply affected by mental illness that their state of mind is represented by their actions. However, mental illness is not always so noticeable. Indeed, most of us probably know someone affected by it whether we are aware of it or not.

The media shows people affected by mental illness as hopeless, which discourages viewers from themselves getting help if they are in a similar situation. In the news media, there are no stories on mentally ill people where we see them having progressed. Indeed, severe disorders are seen as untreatable when they actually are. On the contrary, in fictional television shows mental illness is also misrepresented, but in a completely different way. Even when shows try to realistically tackle this issue, the character struggling with a mental illness quickly enough gets better and goes back to normal as if nothing ever happened. In the show “90210”, this is exactly what happens when one of the main characters realizes that she has bipolar disorder. This gives an unrealistic view on the how mental illness truly affects people. It is an everyday struggle that takes time to completely overcome. Once again, the media does not inform us correctly.  

The representation of mental illness in the media is not morally ethical because the media only shows one side of mental disorders. Indeed, according to the deontological theory, we have a duty to obey a set of rules. Furthermore, only the intent of our actions matter; the outcome is not important. On the other hand, teleology says that the end goal has to be considered in order to decide whether an action is morally ethical. By constantly linking mental illness to violent acts in order to get their viewers’ attention, the media has the intent to misrepresent mental illness, which causes harm. If the summum bonum, the end goal, of the media is to correctly inform its audience, they do not achieve that goal by misleading people to believe that all mental ill people are violent. If the end goal is the greater good of the community, once again, it is not met. People suffering from mental disorders feel ashamed of themselves after seeing the negative portrayal of others with the same illness as themselves.

The only situation where the representation of mental illness in the media would be morally ethical is if the producers of the newscast followed the teleological theory and that their end goal was personal happiness. If having more viewers watch their show because of the sensationalism present brings them personal happiness, then their portrayal of mental disorders can be argued to be morally ethical.

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